Remember Dec. 14, 2003, when the United States’ long-awaited Christmas present popped out of a spider hole in Tikrit, Iraq, and into the hands of U.S. forces?
Following his capture, Saddam Hussein’s impending criminal prosecution was touted as an inevitable victory in the name of a free Iraq. Now, two years later, Hussein’s trial finds itself bogged down by a crisis of legitimacy, a surprisingly high level support for the former dictator and a still-stable insurgency that continues its rampage of destruction. In the face of such problems, we must ask ourselves: What can we expect as Hussein’s trial unfolds?
First, expect mixed support from the Iraqi people. The trial is backed mainly by the Kurds and Shiites of Iraq, each of whom faced the brunt of Saddam’s brutal regime. Most of the charges against Saddam, including the alleged mass killings of 143 Shiites in the town of Dujail, and the 1988 gas-attack of Kurdish towns, are for crimes committed against these two groups. The very parameters of the trial itself were designed by the new Iraqi government, which is dominated by the Shiite and Kurdish vote.
Missing from the ranks of trial proponents are the Sunnis of western Iraq, who account for nearly 40 percent of the country. Himself a secular Sunni, Saddam treated the Sunnis of Iraq relatively well during his tenure, resulting in large support for his former regime. After the fall of Saddam, Sunnis found themselves under-represented in the new government, and looked nostalgically back to his reign.
In the past few months, the Sunni Triangle of western Iraq has been the center of numerous pro-Saddam rallies, as well as a hot spot for increasing acts of violence. Monday’s foiled plot to ambush the site of the trials in Baghdad, as well as the November attempt to assassinate a key tribunal judge, have both been linked to radical pro-Saddam groups. As can be seen, the further we progress into the tribunal, specifically the sentence, the more that the violence will escalate.
Which brings me to my second point: Don’t expect the main insurgency to end anytime soon. While a major cause for initial invasion, it has become clear that Saddam’s relation to al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was weak at best. In fact, al-Zarqawi, being a radical Shiite Muslim, found himself suppressed by Saddam’s regime in the 1990s. The removal of Saddam provided al-Zarqawi with an opportunity to unite with Osama bin Laden, waging a war still being waged to this day.
Claiming links to Saddam and the insurgency based on a Muslim connection is a weak and dangerous assertion to draw. Each has separate motives: one to return as dictator of a secular state, and one to form a true Muslim nation. The conclusion that can be drawn, however, is that a lack of correlation between the two means that the trial with have little effect on insurgent activity.
Finally, expect major global criticism against the tribunal’s legitimacy. One of the major selling points of the defense team is that the United States, an occupying force, has no authority to form a court to try a sovereign leader. The U.S.-based Human Rights Watch also questions the ability of a fair trial: While international trials must provide guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the Iraqi tribunal must only be “satisfied” of guilt. As the defense furthers its position, more support has drummed up for
Saddam, including a recent mass protest in Bangladesh and numerous calls by nations to move the trial to international waters. If the United States does not address the attacks of the tribunal’s legitimacy, the American people will witness something truly ironic: support of Saddam Hussein by human rights activists!
While it is a victory for humanity that Saddam can be brought to justice, the question of legitimacy, as well as the response by Iraqis, is taking the focus off the evil man at trial and placing it on the failures of the courts. Saddam’s political genius managed to quell the resistance, mentioned above, during his 25-year reign, and he is already well on his way to recapturing the hearts of his followers.
My prediction: If the United States and Iraq are not careful about how they handle the trial, they will find a lump of coal in their stocking that will last for the entire occupation.
Sean Olson is a University student. Please send comments to [email protected]